Research

Food and agriculture play central roles in everyone’s lives.

While the appetite for a regenerative agri-food system has never been stronger, researchers and policy makers often bypass the people at the front lines of transformative system change.

At the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps, we believe that community-directed, change-oriented research can help push our movements forward.

We believe

  • knowledge can translate into power.
  • agriculturaal research can inform our understanding of what exists and inspire new ideas of what is possible on farms and off.
  • people and communities should be the primary decision-makers shaping our agri-food systems.

We aim to

  • use research to help us understand what is already working in our communities, what isn’t, and what we can do differently.
  • conduct participatory research projects with outcomes that matter.

PRESENT PROJECTS

While we begin to build our network of research scientists, agricultural practitioners, food activists, and community groups across the Upper Midwest, we have begun two projects.

Regeneration Midwest: Scaling up climate and health solutions in agricultural communities across twelve U.S. states

From climate change to pollution, declining nutrition, new diseases, rural abandonment, farmer suicides, and the opioid epidemic, industrial agriculture is helping drive environmental and social damage across our communities.

A new approach is needed. Regenerative agriculture combines biophysical and social interventions in agriculture that represent a foundational shift in how food, climate, community, population health, and health equity are produced together.

Regeneration Midwest and the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps will conduct a multi-level analysis to evaluate whether already ongoing efforts in regenerative agriculture across the U.S. Midwest have improved community life.

We will compare twelve Midwest counties where regenerative agriculture is strong to twelve counties where conventional agriculture is prevalent. We will conduct two-week site visits to each county, where we will pursue a suite of social science analyses, including focus groups and cooperative inquiries, to produce on-the-ground pictures of the agriculture practiced in each county and its relationship to climate change, population health, and health equity.

By a series of ecological analyses, we will compare these on-site results to county-level demographic, environmental, economic, and population health data. We will test whether the two sets of counties–regenerative and conventional–differ in their environmental and population health outcomes over the past decade.

Does agricultural alienation select for diseases across geographic scale?

Much of agricultural science is dedicated to the kind of research and development that helps industrial agriculture expand at its alternatives’ expense. We’ve tried our hand at a analysis in something of the other direction–as part of an agricultural science for the people.

In that effort, we’ve completed what appears to be one of the first quantitative analyses of agricultural alienation.

We analyzed the growing gaps between agricultural production and the ecologies and human welfare upon which our present system of social reproduction depends. We statistically tested how much agriculture has become increasingly alienated from nature, human populations, and agriculture as a self-reproducing industry for 25 U.S. states, 1970-2000. We also tested whether these shifts correlated with the emergence of a number of food-associated infectious diseases.

The work will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication and summarized in an invited book chapter.